Running back by committee hasn’t been Gus Malzahn’s style, which should tell you something

SEC Country wants to tackle the best questions from Auburn football and basketball fans. Look for our Auburn Question of the Day most weekdays. Go  here  to see all of our previous answers. 

Would Auburn fans be ok if the 1,000-yard RB streak ended as long as there were three guys with around or over the 600 rushing mark?

AUBURN, Ala. — Since 2008, Auburn has fielded a running back who has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark. Often, the Tigers have had several players in their backfield capable of carrying a good bit of the load.

At the beginning of the last few seasons, Gus Malzahn wasn’t sure which player would step up and be the go-to back.

Last September it seemed Kamryn Pettway would own the backfield after being the SEC’s top rusher in 2016. It turned out to be the year of Kerryon Johnson.

Auburn finds itself in a similar position this spring. There’s a handful of running backs who’ve shown flashes of talent and potential, but Malzahn and running backs coach Tim Horton are looking for someone to emerge as the starter.

“The good thing right now is we’ve got some very talented running backs,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to let them compete and hopefully get an order by the time we leave spring. I really feel like we have multiple guys that can do the job. It’s just a matter of who can do the job the best.”

MORE: Why this Auburn running back might look best as a redshirt in 2018

It begs the question: Could Auburn finally run the football by committee in 2018? And another question: Would Auburn fans, who affectionately think of the Plains as the home of “Running Back U.” accept their impressive streak coming to an end?

Malzahn has an arsenal of backs who are capable. And he might talk about running the ball by committee, but it’s probably not going to happen. Here’s a small indicator that’s true.

When asked about running back depth early this spring, Malzahn cited times in recent years when people have started out wondering if Auburn could “get it done.” His response was this:

“And if you look at our history, every time we’ve had somebody step up and most times we’ve had two guys step up,” Malzahn said. “We still feel the same.”

The key part of that response is in italics. Auburn is looking for “somebody” to step up. Just take a glance at the stats since 2008. Even in years where several NFL running backs were in orange and blue, Auburn went with one primary player. For example, in 2014 Cameron-Artis Payne totaled 1,608 yards. That left running back Corey Grant, who is now in the NFL, amassing just 364 yards.

Regardless of how much talent Malzahn has at the position, Auburn eventually will go with the hot hand unless a string of injuries strikes. While it’s easy to criticize Malzahn for this strategy, and the counterarguments for this method are endless, there’s no denying Auburn has found success through one rusher.

MORE: When Auburn needs to turn to Jarrett Stidham’s backup, it’s likely going to be this young talent 

Now, for the second part of that question. Would Auburn fans accept if the 1,000-yard rusher streak came to an end?

Absolutely. If beating Georgia and Alabama this season, especially on the road, required Kam Martin, Devan Barrett, Malik Miller and JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow sharing 2,000-plus yards? It’s a no brainer.

There’s more important things than the 1,000-yard rushing mark. Beating rivals and winning in the SEC, which means competing for a national title, tops that list.

Auburn will always be recognized as a school with an incredible ground game. Even with Chip Lindsey in charge of the Tigers’ offense and Jarrett Stidham in the pocket, Auburn will still run the football. It has to. Look at games last season where Kerryon Johnson wasn’t a factor (think the conference title game). Balance requires running the football. More importantly, you can’t survive in the SEC without it.

If Auburn fans have to deal with the 1,000-yard rusher streak coming to an end this season, it won’t be because three or more players are producing. The Tigers will find their guy at some point in the next few months. It’s just going to take a little more time.

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